Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If I Could Cook, I'd Make This...

We spent most of today in sunny Palo Alto, where I took advantage of the sun and did a short hike near the Stanford campus. The enormous weather differences between the South Bay and San Francisco never cease to amaze me though; by the time I made it back to the city, the car was swimming through heavy fog and the temperature had dropped by 20 degrees.

This wet, chilly weather makes me want to make soups and stews, hearty and full of spicy heat to fend off the damp air. Unfortunately, I'm kitchen-less, but if I had my way I think I'd make a big pot of Indian-style lentils; warm and fragrant with turmeric and ginger and with just a bit of heat from some hot pepper.

I often make Indian food, because it is not only incredibly healthy and versatile (we eat it during the dog days of summer, the dreariest days of winter, and everything in between), but also incredibly delicious. It might not be much to look at, but an Indian meal with lentils, greens, spiced rice or parathas, and maybe some chicken, is about the best thing there is.

The following is a loose recipe for making a pot of lentils. I often use red lentils, because they become nice and soupy when cooked, but you can apply the basic technique to any kind of lentil you have on hand (except for French lentils - they won't get soupy enough). I don't usually measure out my water, but rather cover the lentils by 1 1/2 inches or so. I check the pot often, and add water as needed. This dish is wonderfully forgiving, filling, and makes the perfect warm comfort food. Add a bit of spinach (frozen or fresh), and serve with brown rice for a simple vegetarian meal.

Indian Lentils

1 c. red lentils
~4 c. water, more or less as needed
a few big pinches turmeric
1 tbs. oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
optional: minced serrano pepper, chopped tomato, fresh or frozen spinach, fresh cilantro


Place lentils in a pot and fill with enough water to cover lentils by about 1 1/2 inches. Set pot over medium heat and add a few pinches of turmeric. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat, partially cover, and cook until lentils are soupy and soft, about 30min. Check pot often and add water to as necessary. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Once lentils are soft, heat oil in a separate skillet or frying pan. Once hot, add seeds and fry until fragrant and popping. Add diced onion, garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and just beginning to brown. Pour all of onion mixture into the lentil pot, and stir to combine. Leave as is, or add spinach, tomatoes, and/or cilantro to pot, cooking just until warmed through. Serve with plain yogurt and rice or parathas.

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